The road to Sunrise will open this morning, but visitors to the popular destination in the northeastern corner of Mount Rainier National Park can expect few services.
Crews have cleared snow from the road and some facilities at Sunrise, allowing the road to open, but there will be minimal services until a week from now and plenty of snow to wade through, chief ranger Chuck Young said Thursday.
“They’re working to get the water system going, but it’s not ready,” he said.
Because of that, potable water will not be available and the only restrooms will be vault and portable toilets.
It takes about two weeks to activate the water system and treat the water in the holding tanks, said superintendent Randy King. That process has started, but he does not anticipate there being potable water until next week.
Because of the lack of water and to allow other preparations to be completed, the Sunrise Visitor Center and Sunrise Day Lodge will not open until June 29.
“You always run into some kind of issue at Sunrise,” King said. “Last year was all the snow. That made it difficult to just get access to start the systems.”
The area was buried in 10 to 15 feet of snow at this time last year, and the park delayed the opening until July 8. But after an outcry from business owners along state Route 410 and from park visitors, park managers opted to have a limited opening July 1.
“You’re talking about a place at 6,400 feet in one of the snowiest places on earth,” King said. “It’s the hardest place for us to open each season. But we’re on target for when we wanted to provide access.”
Access is just the first step in opening Sunrise, King said. Other crews then work on the water system, remove shutters from the buildings, prep the generator-solar power system, reinstall signs and much more.
“Sunrise is completely off the grid,” King said. “It has some quirks you have to deal with, that just makes it a challenge to open for the season.”
Vivian Cadematori, co-owner of Alta Crystal Resort, understands those issues, but also knows how important it is to area businesses to have the road reopen.
“We’re thrilled,” she said Thursday. “We have a lot of people staying here from out of state. It’s very exciting they’ll be able to make the drive to Sunrise and see the view.”
Visitors coming from the Northeast, where they have been experiencing record hot weather, are “just flabbergasted when they get here and they see something is closed,” Cadematori said.
“Also, if people see something is closed, they just don’t consider the alternatives,” she said. “They just decide not to come. It impacts everyone along the corridor.”
With the road opening, the Greenwater-Crystal Mountain area will also see an increase in park visitors driving around the mountain.
While park visitors will be able to get to Sunrise, they should pack snowshoes rather than typical hiking gear. About 4 feet of snow remains on the ground.
“It’s not hiking conditions, for sure,” King said. “Still, people just enjoy getting there, you see kids playing in the snow.”